Reflection on presenting at NIHR ARC North Event – Mind the Gap: London boroughs’ ideas for adult social care research

Lucy JacobsLucy Jacobs is a Senior Social worker with London Borough of Bromley Adult Social Care currently undertaking a Pre-Doctoral Local Authority Fellowship in the NIHR Health & Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London. (1192 words)

I was delighted to have been selected as one of the Local Authority Presenters to speak at the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North Thames (NIHR ARC North Thames) event held on the 18 May 2023 entitled ‘Mind the Gap: London Boroughs’ ideas for adult social care research’. The event was split across a morning and afternoon session. It was hosted by the Care Policy Evaluation Centre. Co-organisers, alongside the NIHR ARC North Thames, were made up of the following: the NIHR ARC South London, the NIHR ARC North West London, the CRN North West London and the NIHR School for Social Care Research.

I felt honoured and nervous (in equal measures) to have been given the opportunity to present my topic in the morning session. Dr Sarah Jasim from the Care Policy Evaluation Centre opened the event on behalf of the organising team  and introduced the ‘World Café’ session format. The three local authority thought leaders (which included my humble self) would briefly introduce our local topics of interest and stay at our tables where attendees would subsequently rotate between the discussion tables every 30 minutes. I had never been a presenter in a ‘speed dating’ (or 30-minute speed date if you like) styled event prior to this, so it was quite exciting for me as an early researcher. Needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

There were three topic presenters in the morning session:

Topic 1: Challenges and opportunities of a shared language – London Borough of Camden

Topic 2: Adult Social Care focus of Health Determinant Research Collaboration (HDRC) – London Borough of Lambeth

Topic 3: Domestic abuse + adult safeguarding – London Borough of Bromley (Yep! that’s me)

I attended the event accompanied by my Principal Social Worker from London Borough of Bromley’s Adult Social Care Christine Mak.

I introduced myself as a social work practitioner doubling up as an early researcher, so I felt I could certainly appreciate the ‘gap’ from two perspectives. There was also a light lunch provided which gave an opportunity for attendees from different professional backgrounds to mingle and discuss.

I presented on my area of interest which was adult safeguarding in relation to domestic violence and abuse (DVA) and specifically coercive control. As to be expected DVA is quite an emotive topic, but sadly it is rife in the community and the world we live in. DVA is heavily gendered with a higher percentage of female victims while perpetrators are predominantly male. Statistics do appear dire even with the relatively new law in place. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (since amended by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021) made coercive control a criminal act but figures still show that reports of coercive control are still rising (ONS, 2022).

What makes it even harder for the victims is the persistence of the old notion of DVA being something physical or tangible that can be seen either as bruises, the appearance of neglect or the dwindling bank account. However, when it comes to non-physical abuse, it must be unimaginably complex for the victim to try and convey it into words, as being controlled is a daily part of their lives. It is difficult enough at the best of times where there is a lot of talk about trying to bridge the gap between research and social care. The gap is still massively present even with the growing amount of research in health and social care. Worse still, there is a dearth of research from an adult social care perspective into the impact of s.76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 on the outcomes of adult safeguarding.

As a social work practitioner, I can see how colleagues continue to grapple with the pressures of heavy caseloads, reduced resources, and staffing issues, so to even consider what research is going on or what research has to say in the endless tidal wave of social work practice feels almost impossible. It feels like a mammoth task for practitioners to complete the mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements to keep up their annual registration with  Social Work England so the talk of seeking outputs from research to feed into practice almost sounds unachievable. I still get asked by colleagues; “how did you get into research?” and “how did you even find out about it?”.  As an early researcher in practice, I am still learning about the different routes into social work research and the various opportunities. However, on the bright side, I am a practitioner who has made the first step into research, meaning it is actually possible.

When I have my ‘researcher hat’ on in discussions with senior research fellows, I am now able to actively contribute to discussions about how to engage/connect with social work practitioners and on the other hand, with my ‘social work practitioner hat’ on, I link up colleagues with opportunities to contribute to studies, attend seminars, conferences, training and build professional relationships in areas of interest. I believe there is a strong case for there to be a ‘Research Link’ (an actual person) whom both researchers and practitioners can liaise with, placed within adult social care. Having a ‘Research Link’ in every local authority adult social care taking the lead on reflective sessions on topical issues where research outputs can be fed back as a two-way form of communication between research and practice will be extremely beneficial. Feedback can also be given in events like this one organised by the ARCs so funders know where the gaps are and exactly what needs to be researched into urgently. I think this two-way system should be the ‘beating heart’ of research in practice to simulate something like a virtual aorta, with information/ feedback pumping in/out and circulated collaboratively and continually.

This way, that ‘gap’ then transforms into a cavity that houses this beating heart where practice and research intersect in a real time continuum of development, learning, improvements, innovations…..yep you get my drift! I am passionate about this, even more so about my subject area. For local authority adult social care to develop effective ways of supporting clients/victims of coercive control in DVA. To change the narrative of the ‘revolving door’ as described by Stark and Hester (2019), which is mirrored in safeguarding, where clients repeatedly seek help over the years following coercive and oppressive acts against them, but are having their cases closed sometimes due to the poor responses from professionals they come in contact with.

Research is crucial in shaping professional practice and enabling professionals better understand the complexities victims are faced with, living their lives entrapped in the invisible strings of coercive control, and also for this understanding to follow through into professional practice.

I look forward to more collaborative events like this in the near future and beyond.

Lucy Jacobs is a Senior Social worker with London Borough of Bromley Adult Social Care currently undertaking a Pre-Doctoral Local Authority Fellowship in the NIHR Health & Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London.

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